BOSTON — It has been six years since LeBron James walked onto the TD Garden parquet and willed the Miami Heat to a elimination-avoiding victory over the Boston Celtics.
After scoring 46 points in another elimination-game special for the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Friday night, James returns to the scene of his 2012 magic and tries to do it again in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals Sunday night.
“We have one game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” James said Friday night after his seventh 40-point game in 17 outings in this postseason.
This will not be an easy task for James and his buddies, who will try to hand the Celtics their only loss in 11 postseason home games. The task also got tougher Saturday when it was announced that Kevin Love, who left Game 6 after banging heads with Boston’s Jayson Tatum, is in the league’s concussion protocol and is out for Game 7.
Just like their opening-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics have won three at home and lost three on the road in this series. They have one road win in the playoffs but are 10-0 at home, where their crowd and perhaps even the banners that hang high above the parquet have helped.
The Celtics have never lost a series they’ve led 2-0 — making it 36 and 37 straight with this year’s first two rounds.
“It’s about just winning the game now,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart, who has done his share of mixing it up with James in this series. “It’s not going to be pretty. You got to be able to get down and get dirty. You can’t go out and try to look pretty. You have to be ready for a dogfight.
“We got to be ready to come up with our nose bloodied, we got to be ready to come out with our mouth bloodied, we have to come out ready to fight.”
James, seeking his eighth straight trip to the Finals, comes in averaging 34.9 in Game 7s — including his 45 to help eliminate the Indiana Pacers in this year’s first round. In his career, he has averaged 34 per game in going 13-9 in elimination games. In Game 6 of the 2012 Eastern final, he went for 45 points, 15 rebounds and five assists to keep the Miami Heat alive before they won Game 7 back home.
“Best player in the game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after Friday’s game. “Special night tonight and special night in Game 4 … I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Added Terry Rozier, who has often found himself outmanned in a switching situation that left him on James: “We know LeBron is different than a lot of other guys, but we’ve got to get the job done.”
In this series, James has averaged 39 points per game at home, 27.7 per in the three games in Boston.
Before Friday night’s game, Cleveland coach Ty Lue told his team (and others), “Three, three, three,” meaning their season had either three hours, three days or three weeks remaining. They were able to take care of the first part — and did it basically without Love, with former Celtics player Jeff Green filling in and having a strong game.
Love is averaging 13.9 points and 10.0 rebounds this postseason.
Tatum was checked out by doctors Saturday and Stevens said there was “nothing there to be concerned about” with his star rookie.
“As we talked about all year, tomorrow night is not going to be perfect. … You just have to have perfect intentions,” Stevens said Saturday.
Said James, who could be playing his final game in his second stint with the Cavaliers: “Just go out and trust what you’ve built on all year. I don’t put too much added pressure on myself. I just go out and play my game. It’s a Game 7. It’s something you wish you had when you’re done playing, but more than that, it’s just basketball for me.
“I know what I’m capable of doing, and I’m going to trust everything I put into it.”